Thursday, March 24, 2011

Firefox 4 improves tabs and speed

Mozilla released the latest version of its flagship Web browser Firefox this week. Given that Google Chrome releases a new version of its browser every six weeks, it may seem as if Firefox has been slowing its pace. Not exactly, although Firefox 4 was delayed by a few months.

Firefox 4 is a major upgrade to version 3.6. The first thing you will notice is the user interface changes. Of note, tabs for each open page are now along the top of the window rather than underneath the address bar. Mozilla claims this will save on screen real estate since it meshes the tab and title bars together.

My favorite tab-related addition is app tabs. Users now can have Firefox pin tabs permanently to the left side of the tab bar so they are always open and updating in the background. I set one up for Gmail, Facebook and Twitter and now want the feature in all browsers.


Aesthetics aside, Firefox 4 feels much faster compared to the previous version both in page rendering and interface responsiveness. I used to be a heavy Firefox user, but switched to Apple's Safari as Firefox began to feel bloated and unresponsive. Those lags and delays are nonexistent in 4.0, which makes Firefox feel its lean former self.

I don't believe in hard benchmarks for browser tests at this point because as long as you are using the latest version of Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome or Safari, pages are going to load quickly with only milliseconds in differences between them all.

The one thing that can speed up Firefox is its support for hardware acceleration. Traditional browsers have relied on a user's CPU to render pages, but browsers are starting to shift some rendering tasks to a machine's dedicated graphics processor. This can speed up the rendering of text and images on Web pages.

Firefox Sync is another feature Mozilla "borrowed" from Chrome. You now can sync your bookmarks, settings, passwords, browsing history and open tabs across multiple computers so you won't be missing anything whether you are using Firefox at work or at home.

If you are a Safari or Chrome user, there is no reason to switch unless you are a browser junkie.

If you are using any version of Microsoft Internet Explorer other than the just-released 9.0, I'd look at Firefox as an alternative.

If you still are running Internet Explorer 6, run, don't walk, to Mozilla's website and download Firefox.

Even Microsoft is recommending people stop using IE 6 at this point.

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